Understanding Food Labels: A Guide to Making Eco-Friendly Choices

Learn to navigate the complexities of food labels, empowering you to make more eco-friendly choices without compromising nutrition or taste.

With about half of all waste coming from food and its packaging materials, it’s important to influence food manufacturers to make a change (1). While some companies strive to produce more environmentally conscious products, others make false claims for marketing purposes. Learn to navigate the complexities of food labels, empowering you to make more eco-friendly choices without compromising nutrition or taste.

Environmental impact of food packaging

More than one third of greenhouse gasses are being caused by humans and food production.

The majority of food packaging is disposed of, often ending up either buried in landfills or becoming litter. Particularly plastic-based packaging can take hundreds of years to decompose, while chemicals leach from packaging materials, into groundwater and soil (2). 

The need for environmental consciousness and sustainable food practices is more important than ever. By understanding food labels, and how to filter out the false claims, you can make more eco-friendly choices to support the planet. 

Eco-friendly choices: how to decode food labels

While many companies strive to produce sustainable and environmentally conscious products, others engage in deceptive marketing practices and false claims of eco-friendliness. One common tactic is greenwashing, or conveying a false impression of health benefit or environmental impact of the product (3). For example, labeling a product as "eco-friendly," "natural," or "sustainable" without sufficient evidence to back these claims up. 

To ensure you’re making eco-friendly choices, look for these certifications:

Organic certification

The organic certification indicates the product has been produced without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (4). Choosing organic products supports environmentally friendly farming practices and promotes soil health and biodiversity.

Fair trade

The Fair Trade certification on food labels ensures that the producers in developing countries receive fair compensation for their labor and adhere to social and environmental standards (5). 

Locally sourced

Opting for locally sourced food not only reduces carbon emissions associated with transportation but also supports local farmers and economies. Look for labels indicating where the product came from or check with vendors at farmers' markets to ensure your food is locally sourced.

Sustainable seafood

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certifications guarantee that seafood has been sourced from sustainable fisheries (6). Choosing seafood with these labels helps protect marine ecosystems and ensures the long-term availability of seafood resources.

Non-GMO project verified

The Non-GMO Project Verified label indicates products have undergone rigorous testing to ensure they are free from genetically modified organisms. Choosing non-GMO foods may support biodiversity, reduce the use of synthetic pesticides, and preserve traditional farming practices (7). 

Animal welfare

Labels such as "Certified Humane" or "Animal Welfare Approved" ensure that animal products come from farms that prioritize humane treatment of animals. Supporting humane animal agriculture practices also encourages sustainable farming practices (8). 

Eco-friendly packaging

When it comes to the food packaging, look for labels indicating recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable materials. Choose products with minimal packaging, such as from bulk bins, or packaging made from renewable resources whenever possible. One of the best ways to limit packaging, such as from take away meals, is to make sustainable meals at home. Get inspired with sustainable recipes and meal plans with Lifesum.

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